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Tom the Turkey? No comment.

Dec 6, 2011

Tom the Turkey

Contributor Sam Bungey writes:

If you listened to the story I reported in this week's Poultry Slam about Tom the Turkey, you know that Officer Jeff Day, the cop who actually shot and killed the bird, would not speak to us. At first he declined our request by phone, so my producer Brian Reed and I went to the Chilmark police station to try and convince him in person. We wanted to hear from the last person to see Tom alive.

But when we showed up, Day responded by simply fixing us with an inscrutable gaze. Maybe the dead eyes came with the territory – after all, this turkey had attacked Officer Day so viciously that he felt compelled to pump it full of lead. The slaying might have left quite a mark on the policeman. “Is it that you don’t like talking about the incident?” we asked. Day shrugged.

Honestly, we were surprised. We thought people might be able to laugh about a turkey encounter three years after it happened. We asked Officer Day if any ongoing legal issues prevented him from speaking to us. A firm “No,” and a good old eyeballing was all that Day would muster. We appealed to his sense of compassion (“Brian drove through the snow from New York... I flew here from London”), his vanity (“people loved how you took down that bird”), even his common sense ("more than two million people will hear this, and your side won't be represented"). But it was like trying to get a rise out of a meatball sandwich. Day was unflappable.

“Do you not like reporters?” Another shrug. This one seemed to indicate that, yes, Day was not a committed fan of journalists. But still, some other principle was at play that Day just would not tell us.

In mafia culture, breaking Omertà can be punishable by death. Was something similar at play here, in relation to the turkey? Many people we spoke to about Tom took some time to open up about the memories of the bird. It seemed that, even in death, Tom the turkey maintained a stranglehold on some parts of the community. Certainly, most were reluctant to publicly take sides on the shooting – it is a small island, after all. But Officer Day’s stonewalling was something new. His commitment to silence was almost impressive. Brian pleaded with him: "If people don't want to talk, we like to tell our listeners a reason why. Are you able to give us that?”

“I couldn’t tell you,” said the officer. Perhaps Day just didn’t want to speak ill of the dead.

Pictured: Tom the Turkey and his gang (we're not sure exactly which one is Tom). Photo by Brian Mackey.

We're going to Sundance with Mike Birbiglia

Dec 1, 2011

Sleepwalk With Me

We're thrilled to announce that the film version of Mike Birbiglia's story Sleepwalk With Me will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. For the last two years Ira Glass and our producer Alissa Shipp have been working with Mike to produce the film.

The official synopsis:
Reluctant to confront his fears of love, honesty, and growing up, a budding standup comedian has both a hilarious and intense struggle with sleepwalking.

Mike's story originally came to us from The Moth, and aired in our 2008 episode Fear of Sleep. Then Mike adapted it into a one man show, and later a book. Mike directed the movie, and wrote it with Seth Barrish (who directed the stage version), Joe Birbiglia and Ira Glass. The film stars Mike, Lauren Ambrose, Jim Rebhorn and Carol Kane. It was shot by cinematographer Adam Beckman, who also shot our television show. Jacob Jaffke produced.

Congrats to Mike and all involved in this project. Wish us luck in Park City!

Pictured: a bloodied Mike Birbiglia collects himself after a sleepwalking injury outside La Quinta Inn.

New USB drive & holiday merch sale!

Nov 30, 2011

Attention holiday shoppers,

Correction in last week's show

Nov 15, 2011

Ira writes:

In an edit of Gabriel Rhodes's story in last week's show, I asked him to insert erroneous information about sound waves and electromagnetic waves, and then acted so completely confident about it—misremembering a science show I worked on years ago—that nobody in the editing process bothered to fact check it. This was very much my mistake and not Gabe's, and I regret telling him to insert a mistake into his otherwise carefully researched and fact checked story. Thanks to the many listeners who wrote to point out the error. We'll go back and fix this, so the version of the show on the website in a few days will have the correction. He was using electromagnetic waves, not sound waves, for his experiment.

Ira Glass Speaking Event in Woods Hole - POSTPONED

Nov 13, 2011
Ira was supposed to speak at a public radio fundraiser today in Cape Cod, but got caught in a snowstorm in Wyoming and can't make it. He'll come and do his talk NEXT week—same time, same place. If you bought tickets: Your tickets are still good. You can use them next week or get a refund if that doesn't work for you. Apologies for the inconvenience.

The new date: Sunday, November 20th, 4pm
Lillie Auditorium, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

For refund and other information, check here.

Judge Amanda Williams Faces Charges

Nov 10, 2011

Ira writes:

Many listeners have written to us since our episode about Georgia Judge Amanda Williams, asking what ever happened to her. Did she face any consequences for the things we documented on our program?

Yesterday, Georgia's Judicial Qualifications Commission filed formal charges against her. The twelve counts include a number of things reported in our episode: sending away inmates for indefinite detention, jailing Charlie McCullough for 14 days for exercising his right to contest a drug screen, and using "rude, abusive, or insulting language" with individuals appearing before her.

The JQC also accuses Judge Williams of sending Lindsey Dills into solitary confinement for an indefinite period, without the ability to consult with a lawyer, despite the fact that the court knew her history of suicide attempts. (She later attempted suicide while in solitary custody.) It accuses Judge Williams of issuing this order from her chambers, without the public or a court reporter present. Judge Williams told the JQC that she had not issued this order, but the investigators apparently found a recording of her returning to her courtroom and declaring: "On Lindsey Dills, she is not to have any telephone privileges and no one is to contact or visit her except [drug court counselor] Gail Kelly! Nobody! Total restriction!"

Generally what happens in these cases is that the judge is shown the charges and given the option to step down, rather than face them. Judge Williams apparently chose not to step down, so charges were filed. If this proceeds to a trial, it will happen in January.

These are just accusations of course, not findings of guilt. Judge Williams has not responded to reporters' inquiries yet about the charges.

News coverage about the charges. Another story. AP story.

The actual charges, in full.

Snap Judgment

Nov 2, 2011

Ira writes:

You listening to Snap Judgment yet? They're part of a new wave of public radio shows telling stories on the air, and they do it in a style that's all their own. Different from us or Radiolab or The Moth. As a host, Glynn Washington has chops that I and Abumrad and Keillor don't even dream of. Check out Beating Las Vegas or Dancing While Black or Evil D.

I mention this today because Snap Judgment puts on a hell of a live show and they have one coming up in DC on November 12th, with a great band adding music to the stories in real time (that ep with Dancing While Black gives you a taste). DC and Baltimore and Northern VA listeners, I'm talking to you.

Sitcom from an America That's Just Starting to Exist

Oct 25, 2011

Ira writes:

Jane Espenson's a very funny TV writer I admire. She wrote two of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Superstar" and "I Was Made to Love You", and also wrote for The O.C., Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Gilmore Girls. For a while she had a cheery blog full of practical tips and thoughts about how to write for television, including her theories on how to create funny dialogue, which was fascinating.

Anyway, she's just finished a new project. It's a sitcom, and it follows all the rules and conventions of any sitcom, except it's about a gay married couple. As she puts it: "Mad About You but with two guys." When she and her co-writer Brad Bell came up with the idea, they realized it's such an obvious concept for a series that if network TV had wanted to do it, they already would've. So instead of going around pitching the show, they made it on the cheap, with their own money, on the Internet. A sitcom veteran, Jeff Greenstein, who did about a million episodes of Will and Grace, directed.

They shot a 22-minute pilot, and split it into eleven two-minute videos, i.e., bite-sized enough to be appropriate for the web. The last bit of it just went up. It's called Husbands. The setup is decidedly old-school. Two fresh-faced guys named Brady and Cheeks get married on a drunken bender in Vegas, and then decide they'll try to make the marriage work, after briefly considering annulment:

Brady (who's a pro baseball player): Marriages can be annulled if you're too drunk to know what you're doing. My teammates do it all the time.

Cheeks: So that's why you're called The Dodgers!

Brady doesn't laugh.

Cheeks: Wrong time but it's comedy gold, trust me.

Brady: I'm not going to be the first gay divorce since the new law! We have to stay technically married for a while.

Cheeks: Straight people do this all the time! In fact, if we weren't gay, this would be a hackneyed premise.

Husbands is chock-a-block with the clever clever writing of a sitcom, delivered at the hurried pace of people trying to cram in as many jokes as humanly possible. Though if you're going to check out just one episode, make it the last one, number eleven, where it pivots from this rat-a-tat sitcom writing to a moment where Brady suggests to Cheeks "How about we stop talking, get into bed and find something else to do." And they do. They cuddle and there's a full-on, no kidding, romantic kiss. Which is somehow mindblowing in this sugar-coated, fun-for-the-family context. It is not the quick peck on the cheek that Cam and Mitchell finally got to in season two of Modern Family. Seeing a man sweetly kiss another man onscreen and not in some moodily-lit Sundance movie with an Important Statement To Make, but just another day in America's dumbest art form, the sitcom, feels new and amazing. And sure, now that I've looked it up on Google, I've learned of gay kisses on Glee and Will and Grace. It still feels new. It feels like you're peeking at a future – of TV, of America – that's just barely coming into existence.

Jane's hope is that some brave network – AMC? NBC? – will notice their little experiment and give them a budget larger than the cost of a Hyundai to blow people's minds on real TV. If they do it right, of course, they won't be blowing minds at all. They'll just be the New Normal.

Ben Calhoun's 'Patriot Games' wins at Third Coast

Oct 25, 2011

Congratulations to This American Life producer Ben Calhoun, whose story Patriot Games won the Bronze Award at the 2011 Third Coast Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition. Produced for our midterm election episode This Party Sucks, Ben's story focused on Rich Carlson and Tom Swenor, two best friends in Michigan whose decision to form a Tea Party chapter would end up dramatically changing their lives.

Ben was in good company in the awards. Our buddies at RadioLab took home the Silver with a story called Finding Emilie. And the trio of Nick Van Der Kolk, Brenden Baker and Nick Williams snagged the Gold with The Wisdom of Jay Thunderbolt, a documentary/music hybrid about a guy who runs a strip club out of his Detroit home. That story ran on Van Der Kolk's podcast Love + Radio. Congrats all around.

"The Talent Show" - October 26 in Brooklyn

Oct 20, 2011

This American Life contributors Dave Hill, Eugene Mirman and Elna Baker are performing in The Talent Show on Wednesday, October 26th, at Littlefield in Brooklyn. The event, which is Halloween-themed, also features performers Reggie Watts, Joseph Keckler, T. Berry and more.

Tickets are $7. Doors open at 7, show starts at 8.